The subject of technology and education is a highly complex conversation. With so many different types of technical systems in the market, it is difficult to determine one that is best suited to a school’s environment. While no one solution perfectly fits all, there are now some flexible and robust edtech products that are easily available and which can help streamline both front and back-end school processes. At Ashford we have had some great successes using technology to improve school wide functions within a common platform, for both teaching and learning demands as well as school administrative and management back end processes.
Yet choosing the right technology for your school can be difficult. There are countless options, but – like any technology – the value lies in how well it is integrated into the environment and ability to make an impact.
The integration of technology should be planned carefully in any school. Regardless of the technology that is adopted, it is important to create an approach that complements existing processes. For example, teachers and students should have access to learning resources, while the support staff should be able to work seamlessly in administering and processing their tasks.
Creating a common ecosystem that is compatible for all can enable better communication, a more collaborative approach and streamlined functions.
At Ashford School, our students can be found moving swiftly back and forth between Office 365 tools such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel, while staff use data-driven applications for administrative tasks. This is not dissimilar from Google Classroom, another free, web-based platform that saves time and paper and makes it easy to create classes, distribute content and organise resources and materials as necessary.
These ecosystems function as customised one-stop shops for all users, in which information is shared, projects are managed, policies are published and schemes of work are created.
These types of platforms also make the IT departments of educational institutions very happy. The front ends are transparent and seamless in design, while the back-end processes enable data capture and allow users to share, communicate and collaborate more effectively.
One such example is that of Microsoft Office Sharepoint which has the capacity to pull all processes together; the collaboration, the document management, process automation, communication and business intelligence. It can even be used to create web forms that are bespoke to the school.
Regardless of which system a school adopts, e-forms is a powerful way to create, publish and share online forms with ease and include all stakeholders involved; staff, students and parents.
Instead of filling in paper forms or chasing queries by phone, e-forms can be created for tasks such as help desk notifications, time off, room bookings and expense reporting, and is produced using bespoke templates, from simple check-box surveys to complex questionnaires. The system automatically records replies and captures data that can be analysed at a later date.
iSams, a school-based information management system, is completely both browser and app based and uses a single database to bring together a community of admin processes and functions. While many administrative systems have been developed for data assistants or MIS leads to administer, iSams allows teachers to help with managing and maintaining back-end school-related processes.
It offers staff the ability to input information such as registrations, pupil data, medical requirements, reports, commendations and sanctions - and it can assess more data than ever before. As the programme is cloud-based, information can be accessed from home or school without having to rely on a dedicated staff member.
My school has a variety of systems that support teaching, learning and other processes. We use SharePoint to drive collaboration in teaching and learning, as well as storing, managing and distributing files.
Our maths department is currently involved in using the OneNote Class NoteBook tool, which functions as a content library of lessons, materials and resources, and provides a collaborative space for creative and personalised activities. As part of the Office toolkit, it is possible to pull in features from the OneDrive application, which allows users to create, upload, edit and share files with other members of the school and co-author simultaneously.
Student profiles are uploaded via the iSams portal, which has a single sign-on integration with the Office 365 platform. Students are able to access the relevant information via their tablets and within the School’s Firefly Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) portal. iSams integrates easily with Firefly and can transfer the necessary data, classes and sets, profiles and timetables for students and staff to access via their mobile devices while on the move at school, home or even when out of the country.
We have set a strategy in place that means a common core set of applications meet our users’ demands. These systems enhance children’s learning, while automated back-end processes mean administration is streamlined.
Every school is different and should ensure that the ecosystems they integrate are appropriate, robust and flexible to meet their individual requirements.
When tools are properly intertwined, there is huge potential for seamless user transactions that are beneficial to everyone.
Dr Neelam Parmar is director of e-learning at Ashford School in Kent